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Dying Out: The Last Samaritans - Real Stories

Updated: Apr 3

Video from Real Stories

Dying Out: The Last Samaritans - Real Stories

"The Samaritans are one of the most ancient tribes in the world - they’ve been around for over 3,000 years. But the population is now fragile and the tribe at risk of finally dying out... Their population consists of just four extended families, around only 800 people in total (in Roman times there used to be over a million). They have three men to every one woman. To keep the tribe going they’ve tried bringing in women from afar, including a number from the Ukraine. But is it too little, too late?' from the video introduction.

The Samaritans Survived Centuries of War and Slavery. Today, They Face a New Challenge: Too Many Men

When you watch the Samaritans carry out their sacred traditions, you will never know the ancient religious order is on the brink of extinction.

On their holiest of nights, Passover, sacrificial sheep arrive as a pack.

They are led by a man who pushes his way through the crowd to a mountaintop compound where a dozen pits of fire crackle and spit into the evening air.

The white-clad faithful are some of the few remaining members of the Samaritans, a religious minority who trace their lineage back to the Israelites Moses led from slavery in Egypt.

The religion is perhaps best known from the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan who, according to Jesus, helped an injured traveler on the road to Jericho.

Today, only about 800 Samaritans remain, divided among four broad families, spread between Mount Gerizim in the heart of Palestinian territory and the Israeli city of Holon.

With men making up many of its remaining members, this cloistered community must now rely on women from the outside world for its survival.

A Brief History of the Samaritans

"Israel Splits into Two Kingdoms

At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the land of Samaria was situated between the regions of Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. Some believe Jews traveling between Galilee and Judea would take the longer, six-day journey along the Jordan River valley rather than taking a shorter, more direct route through Samaria because of the bitter history between the Jewish people and the Samaritans.

Hundreds of years previously, after the death of King Solomon in 975 BCE, the nation of Israel split into north and south. (See 1 Kings 11:26-39 and 1 Kings 12:1-24.) The northern tribes of Israel were collectively called Israel, and from the reign of Omri onwards, their capital city was Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). The southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon were collectively called Judah, and their capital city was Jerusalem. A distance of 50kms separated the cities of Jerusalem and Samaria..." from the article: A Brief History of the Samaritans

Map showing Samaria
Map Showing Samaria

The Samaritans – An Ancient Israelite People

"The heroic story of the Maccabees (celebrated during the festival of Hanukkah) appears nowhere in the Torah or the other canonical collection of Hebrew Scriptures. Where then can you find it? It appears prominently in the Apocrypha section of most Catholic bibles. In a similar sense, most Jews, outside of Israel, are aware of the Samaritans (the Shamerim) only from reports about the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

The Samaritans are a group of 750 indigenous Middle Eastern people. Half of them live in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and the other half live in Nablus, near Mount Gerizim in Samaria, an area also known as the West Bank. Samaritans claim ancient ancestry from the Israelite Tribes of Menasha and Ephraim and from priests of the Tribe of Levi. They follow the Torah but do not hold any other part of the Hebrew Bible sacred. They believe that the Torah selected Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, as the site of God’s temple in the Holy Land. The Samaritans are believed to have numbered more than a million in late Roman times but diminished to less than 150 in 1917. That attrition was a result of forced conversions by both Byzantine Christians and Muslim invaders. The Samaritans maintain their identity by a significant amount of inbreeding. In fact, according to research done in the late 1990s, 84% of Samaritan marriages were between cousins, making them the most highly inbred population on the planet. To find the origin of the Samaritans, we must take a brief voyage through a somewhat murky segment of Jewish history and answer the following questions:

  1. Who really were the Samaritans?

  2. What were they doing in Israel during biblical times?

  3. Was there only one good Samaritan?

  4. Does that suggest that all of the other Samaritans were bad?

  5. Were the Samaritans enemies of the Israelites or were they related to them?

  6. Is the area just north of modern-day Israel (called Samaria) connected to the Samaritans?.." from the article: The Samaritans – An Ancient Israelite People

Mount Gerizim and the Polemic Against the Samaritans

"Mount Gerizim appears in the Pentateuch as the mountain of blessing and plays a prominent role in Samaritan tradition, but the Jewish tradition sidelines this mountain and the Samaritans themselves in a polemic that began more than two and half thousand years ago." - Dr Eyal Baruch

Becoming a Nation at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal

Deuteronomy describes two commandments that the Israelites are to fulfill immediately upon arriving in the Land of Israel:

  1. The construction of an altar on Mount Ebal.[2]

  2. A convocation with a ceremony of blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

This ceremony appears twice in Deuteronomy, first in the section of Re’eh (11:26–30) and later in Ki Tavo (Deut. 27:1–26), thus forming a frame or an inclusion around the collection of laws in chapters 12–26. The ceremony establishes the people of Israel as a nation upon entry into the land (Deut 27:9):

הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם לַי-הֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become the people of YHWH your God.

A Parallel Altar to Sinai

The construction of the altar on Mount Ebal and the writing of the Torah on the stones of the altar parallels the construction of the altar and the writing of the Torah at Mount Sinai/Horeb (Exod. 24:4): . " from the article: Mount Gerizim and the Polemic Against the Samaritans

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